I took my friend Tiffany to my senior prom and vividly recall the look her parents gave me when I arrived at the door.
With a suit and tie, a massive bouquet of roses and a smile that I hoped would look soothing, they were clearly not entirely convinced and got me inside.
I talked to Tiffany’s parents for a while, even though Tiffany, who looked simply gorgeous, was as ready to go as I was. I’m not sure what it was about me, but I have a feeling she did not trust me at all to take her daughter out to the prom.
I had a short chat, giving specific answers to their questions about where we were going, how long we were out, the possibility to see a movie afterwards (“Up Close & Personal”, which we happily pass on) and what we would call if we were too late.
What happened was that we had a great time, and I actually got her home early. I asked her months later what her parents thought of me when they first met me on prom night and she said, “They thought you were funny.” I’m still not sure what she meant by that, except “funny” is the code for “sedy and suspicious.”
James Foley’s “Fear” (1996) is about exactly the kind of parents I met (and, as far as I can admit, the kind of parents I was about to become).
Here’s a thriller about a beautiful high school teenager named Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) who falls in love with David (Mark Wahlberg), who is nasty, beautiful and muscular. He is also completely wrong for Nicole, which her father (played by William Peterson) immediately recognizes, even though her stepmother (Amy Brenneman) is more forgiving to David.
As Nicole and David grow closer and more intimate, she struggles to hide the extent of her father’s relationship while David tries to disguise himself as a cuckoo for the Cocoa Puffs psychopath.
The buddy sexuality of a young girl may offer the theme of a teenage comedy or a thoughtful, age drama, but this is a horror movie. If “Twilight” (2008) knew that Edward Cullen was the villain of the movie (and no, it is not), then it would be “scared”.
Convincing and completely icky at the same time, Foley takes an RL Stine-worthy (or Stephanie Meyers-approved) pulp premise and spins it into an uncomfortable story of parental failure. It’s a little amazing that this is the same director who gave us “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992), though I still prefer it over his Bruce Willis / Halle Berry Howler “Perfect Stranger” (2007) or, just like that bad, Foley’s “Fifty” Shades Darker “(2017) and” Fifty Shades Freed “(2018).
To a lesser degree (but only slightly), the father is also a cancer, as we see him as Nicole’s nothing-but-difficulties best friend, played by Alyssa Milano, quite well in a thankless part.
Witherspoon is 16 years old and was about the same age as the 1994 movie. impressive, a quality Wahlberg’s Big Bad Wolf takes full advantage of (and yes, I’m aware that the literal Big Bad Wolf film Witherspoon made that same year, “Freeway,” where her character and performance are a radical contrast to what she does in ” Fear “).
Peterson’s intensity of “To Live and Die in LA” (1985) and “Manhunter” (1986) is intact; the actor may be in a teen-bit horror movie, but he treats it like he’s in a Michael Mann movie, which is why I love this actor.
Whether it’s in movies like this or “Young Guns II” or a William Friedkin classic, Peterson always gives the role everything he has. Brenneman, post- “Heat”, also gives a strong dramatic tour that is much more engaging than you’d expect from the R-rated Lifetime movie scenario.
Wahlberg is effective in this early, not completely rounded off but still impressive tour. Wahlberg actually informs Peterson at one point, “I licked her tears.” Later, we see that David has a tattoo (presumably self-made) on his chest that reads, “Nicole 4 Eva.”
Then it gets really stupid.
David also dedicated a mural to Nicole, photoshopped with pictures of Withersoon on angels and other such stalker nonsense, and I call bs on this: David apparently has no computer, let alone possess the skills for such subpar, early 90s OfficeMax Cut and Paste Crap Art.
I believe David could drive off Nicole’s best friend’s head but there’s no way this guy has Photoshop skills of any kind. The artist formerly known as Marky Mark is really good here, even without his funky bunch, but David’s deranged commitment to Nicole goes back to the classic territory of the camp.
So why am I defending Foley’s film a bit? In addition to Peterson’s excellent performance and the trashy pull of the premise, it was beautifully shot and shot. The editing is slim, and it flies in 96 minutes. However, in exchange for a fast run time, the characterizations are extremely thin.
The best scenes are blunt and loaded with subtitles: When the father pretends to listen to David’s nasty pleading in front of the door and then he turns off badly and refuses to enter, we see that the father, to his surprise as well as for us, who can play macho. Game of one-upmanship as well as David.
It’s crunchy and worlds better than “The Crush” or “Poison Ivy,” which met Sleaze in the ’90s “Lolita” angle, but landed as a thriller that delivered cheap suspense and real suspense.
This becomes really miserable in the third act, bold and tasteless wandering in full “Straw Dogs” territory, with a dog freak (a touch that made me hate 1996) and a home invasion with the threat of multiple rapes and murders. Even “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” (1992) was not so distorted.
Really, this is Lifetime’s “Mother, Can I Sleep With Danger”, but greatly increased by the level of acting and filmmaking. You know the movie works when the Evil One sports a tattoo that reads “Nicole 4 Eva,” but you still can’t stop watching.